The most common repair at businesses from Linwood’s Emergency Repair Shop to Greenway Computers in Somers Point is that spider-web-shaped crack on a smartphone screen.
Even as smartphones have new materials designed to protect dropped phones, the problem is just as common as before, said Emergency Repair Shop owner G. Dull, who opened the Linwood shop last year.
“I have some families, everyone has a phone they’ve broken, all the kids have an iPad at least one of them has broken,” he said. “Everyone knows someone who broke their phone.”
As smartphone technology has grown, devices have bigger screens, slimmer bodies and sleeker looks.
All this helps translate to phones that still crack despite the next generation of Gorilla Glass or shock-absorbing frames.
“The tradeoff is phones get a lot bigger and bulkier,” Rick Osterloh, president of phone maker Motorola, told The Associated Press. “Without a really big innovation and technological breakthrough, it’s going to be hard to (make a really tough phone) in a size people expect.”
As phones have gotten stronger, they’re also being used more.
The latest phones from two leading phone makers — Apple’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus — mix zinc into aluminum frames for aerospace-grade strength.
The frames absorb some of the shock that would have gone to the glass.
The displays also use ion-strengthened glass.
At Greenway Computers in Somers Point, owner Jim Remy said more than half of the repairs the shop does are smartphone repairs.
And cracked screens represent 19 out of every 20 of those jobs.
The business even purchased equipment and built a dust-free “clean room” that will allow the business to separate components of the screen and repair them rather than replace the entire screen, which is costlier.
Remy recommends people use tempered-glass cell phone protectors. These act like windshields of a car, protecting the screen when the phone is dropped, he said.
“I would highly recommend it. Everybody here has it on their phones,” he said.
SquareTrade, which offers protection plans for consumer electronics, said that while phone screens used to crack after one or two drops, the latest iPhones and the Note 5 survived 10 drops each from 6 feet in tests last weekend, at least when dropped on their corners.
But for all three new phones, the screens broke right away when dropped face down on concrete. The stronger glass improves the odds, but the risk isn’t zero.
Scott Forester, director of innovations for Gorilla Glass, said Corning has made strides in withstanding the types of surfaces most likely to puncture glass, including asphalt and concrete.
But he said that’s offset by glass getting thinner and screens bigger over the years in response to consumer demand.
“It’s always this fine balance between practicality and design,” Forester said.
Melissa Lefas has dropped her iPhone 5s a few times, but its screen survived until the phone slipped out of an open backpack while she was carrying groceries and leaning over to unlock a bike.
It landed on a New York sidewalk made of stone — a jagged surface perfect for puncturing glass.
“I heard it and knew it was a goner,” she said. “I’ve seen so many people with cracked screens. I felt it was a matter of time.”
Jessica Hoffman, a spokeswoman for SquareTrade, said she gives manufacturers credit for striving to increase durability.
“However, it just seems they can’t keep up with us,” she said.
Staff Writer Brian Ianieri and The Associated Press contributed to this report.